While Tampa’s breakthrough year has seen the rise of new stars and production from veteran role players, no player is more associated with the franchise than Scott Kazmir. He’s the all-star lefty who leads a rotation that is carrying the Rays to the playoffs, the franchise talent with a golden arm.
While Kazmir is having a successful season (3.58 FIP, 1.34 WPA/LI) that’s pretty much in line with previous results, 2008 Kazmir is quite a bit different than the one’s from previous seasons. Up until this year, he was basically league average at inducing groundballs, running a 43.1% GB% last year. This year, he’s at 30%, one of the lowest figures in the league. That doesn’t happen on accident – he’s pitching differently.
Thanks to the pitch type statistics here on FanGraphs, we can see that Kazmir has changed his arsenal quite a bit this year. Check out his pitch mix percentages:
Fastball %: 2006 – 56.2%, 2007 – 69.6%, 2008 – 76.6%
Slider %: 2006 – 28.6%, 2007 – 18.8%, 2008 – 9.0%
Two years ago, Kazmir was chucking sliders more than a quarter of the time, but now, not even one in ten pitches he throws is his potent breaking ball. Those missing sliders have all become fastballs, presumably as Kazmir tries to keep the stress off his elbow and stay healthy. Since his fastball is a four seam fastball that he locates up in the zone when going for strikeouts, the increased fastballs have led to an increase in fly balls – Kazmir is currently one of the most extreme flyball starters in the A.L.
This looks like a legitimate change in approach, and as long as he keeps relying heavily on his fastball, we shouldn’t expect his groundball percentage to revert to previous levels. Unless he learns how to throw the slider and stay healthy at the same time, this flyballing Kazmir is probably here to stay.